A CLOSE FRIEND AND I have a pact that we need to wait until we've properly celebrated Thanksgiving before we're allowed to listen to Christmas music.
I'm faithful to this agreement, with one small exception—enjoying Handel's Messiah. It's my all-time favorite piece of Christmas music (although originally written for Easter) and a source of great inspiration to me throughout the year. I developed a relationship with Messiah back in a middle school music appreciation class. Best of the Messiah was one of my first CDs. In high school, I heard it performed in its entirety at the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Utah. Now I've downloaded the complete oratorio onto my iPod. And I'm thoroughly enamored.
What is it that makes Handel's Messiah unique? It's so much more than a performance or redundant collection of yuletide tunes. To me, it's a precious tepestry of timeless and healing Scriptural text, held together by dynamic orchestral and choral music. I think people love it because it's singable, endearing, and filled with hope.
But even more than that, Messiah is distinguished by the message of the Christ—the tender feeling of "God with us," as translated from the Hebrew word Immanuel (see Matt. 1:23). This holy partnership of music and Bible passages elicits feelings of grace and peace that bring healing when we need it most.
Even the great composer Handel must have felt the Christ-presence expressed in this great musical work, a message so meek, yet so mighty. Purportedly, after completing the famous "Hallelujah" chorus, Handel surfaced from his work to say, "I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God himself!" (Fred Child and Melinda Whiting. "Handel's Messiah from Philadelphia" NPR program December 18, 2007).
Last fall, I learned a bit more about the feeling of "Immanuel." One night, I woke up to debilitating stomach pain. The quietness of the night seemed to aggravate my feeling of solitude. I was living in a new city, several states away from friends and family, and starting a new job.
After tossing and turning for a while, I finally sat up in bed and turned on the light. I began to pray by mentally confronting thoughts of self-pity, isolation, and vulnerability that lobbied for attention. These thoughts weren't congruent with my commitment to cultivate a desire both to worship God and help people by praying for them and sharing Christian Science. So it was no surprise that those negative thoughts challenged me and went like this: "All you do is just sit around and think 'good thoughts' all day and pray for other people. Do you really expect that 'good thoughts' can help you now?" I chuckled and realized that these mocking thoughts were not my own. They were shadows of fear and doubt looking for a host, just hoping to dethrone the goodwill and desire to serve God already established in my heart.
Then I remembered this phrase from Mary Baker Eddy's The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany: "Good thoughts are an impervious armor; clad therewith you are completely shielded from the attacks of error of every sort" (p. 210). Intuitively, I knew that "good thoughts"—thoughts from God, who is good itself—were not flimsy or superfluous, as I'd experienced healing countless times in my life by relying on such hopeful ideas, ideas with all the power of God's royal law of love behind them. Good thoughts act as spiritual advocates that bring hope when we're faced with despair or pain. And this same feeling of hope, so palpable at Christmastime, can be felt throughout the year, wherever we go.
Expanding on this idea as I prayed, I realized that as one of God's children, I wasn't extraneous. I had a divine purpose, and my work couldn't be in vain. Recalling Messiah, I remembered a Bible quote by the prophet Zechariah: "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout ... behold, thy King cometh unto thee" (Zech. 9:9). What a delight to realize how very close I was to God. It wasn't a closeness that I earned, could lose, or travel away from; Immanuel was right there in the deeply secure feeling of God's love that precluded any other power. And I really felt it.
Suddenly, I didn't feel so lonely, and the pain in my stomach was gone. I lay down again to go back to sleep, but continued to enjoy the idea of Immanuel, the idea that God endorses us all as beloved children.
Though we may never compose masterful works such as Handel did, I've realized we can share our inspiration and feel hopeful as we gather with family, share thoughtfully with a friend, stop to help a stranger, or include the world in our prayers for healing this Christmas. Each one of us is precious, equipped to be a healer. Or, as Messiah suggests, coming from a royal lineagem worthy, honorable. Instead of repeating a refrain of despair, we can rise to meet every day with a "Hallelujah!" |
Ginger Mack sends good tidings to Sentinel readers from her home in Madison, Wisconsin.
Access more great content like this
Welcome to JSH-Online, the home of the digital editions of The Christian Science Journal, Sentinel, and Herald. We hope you enjoy the content that has been shared with you. To learn more about JSH-Online visit our Learn More page or Subscribe to receive full access to the entire archive of these periodicals, and to new text and audio content added daily.